Sunday, August 31, 2008

How Calvin's Spheres of Dominion Facilitate the Family Integrated Church

In the statement that Dr. R Albert Mohler, Jr. made concerning the appointment of Randy Stinson as a dean and a Family Integrated Church (FIC) specialist, he says that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) holds a

“family-centered vision
of church ministry.”

It was stated that this “revolutionary vision” of the seminary and for the seminary inspired them to formally adopt their focus on family integrated worship.

I find this term troubling, though it is not for terribly obvious reason. I admit that I do have a mild knee-jerk, emotional reaction to the sound of the phrase that Dr. Mohler uses here because of its subtle implications. Should church ministry be anything other than Christ-centered, and how does one mediate that ministry – to the individual -- or to the individual who is only seen as part of a family?

Here a particular, strict hierarchical interpretation of Calvinism’s and Theonomy’s spheres of responsibility competes subtly with the Word concerning how one views Christian ministry and how the church should best accomplish it. Dr. Mohler says “family-centered” but this need not mean that he believes in anything other than a Christ-centered life for the Christian.

That is not my point, though I don’t like some of the implications, preferring "Christ-centered" with perhaps a primary focus of ministering to families instead of “family centered.” Among other things, I am concerned about whether individuals will miss ministry in favor of a family-only focus. Can an individual exist as an entity worthy of ministry apart from a family? How, by whom and by what standard is family defined? Within the next few blog posts, I shall explain the foundations of federal headship and how the doctrine forms the foundational rationale for family integrated worship.

The Spheres of Calvin and Theonomy

Government can be defined as that agency through which an individual or body functions and exercises authority. Theonomy ( theo and nomos or “god’s law” -- the study of the Word of God as the sufficient source of all human ethics) recognizes four spheres of government within which the Christian should endeavor to establish dominion : individual, family, church and civil. Personally, I find this to be a very helpful way of looking at how an individual relates to these different social spheres, but I do not always see them as falling in an hierarchical order under all circumstances.

Some who follow Calvin or Theonomy sometimes see the subordinate individual as confined to the next immediate sphere, perceiving and interpreting the world in such a way. And with all due respect to men like John Calvin if that is his interpretation, but I do not believe that this is always a Biblical approach. This concept and misapplications of it have opened up into several different problems in many Reformed teachings as a result of honoring Theonomy's conceptual framework over what we know to be true in Scripture. Conceptual models should help us understand Scripture and should not take precedence. The Bible first, then Calvinism or whatever other theological concept you might like to add as a tool to help you understand Scripture – and NEVER should the reverse be true.

What does an hierarchical ordering of the spheres of dominion look like in terms of evangelism?

There is a definite order to how we should go about evangelization:
  • Individual -- The first sphere of ministry is personal – and within this sphere, we experience spiritual rebirth and experience transformation by the renewing of our minds.
  • Family -- From then, our faith should flow forth from the individual sphere into the next immediate one: that of family (from sphere #1 to sphere #2 in the diagram).
  • Church -- As our families experience the benefits of faith, evangelism and the blessings of our faith will manifest in the next sphere of the church.
  • Civil / Secular -- As our churches are transformed and become more effective, our society (our civil and secular spheres) will experience the benefits of our faith.

This is significant, because taking dominion begins at the “grassroots level” and should never start with revolutionizing from the top down. To change society, we must first change ourselves, then our families, then our churches. The hearts of the people will change through faith first, not through politics, works of the law, or through legalistic conduct standards within the church (something akin to Roman Catholicism whenever outward rituals are employed to "infuse" grace or holiness). If you are RC, please take into consideration that I am not, and infused grace through works or sacraments was strongly reputiated by the Reformation, the theology from which these teachings developed.

Based on personality traits, belief systems or power motives (or a combination thereof), some individuals will naturally prefer to order the world more sequentially versus a personality that best makes sense of the world through random or non-sequential means. Both through personality assessment and through recent, fascinating advances in neurophysiologic imaging, we observe that human beings tend use or “prefer” one side of the brain over the other side. Those who favor the analytical Left Side of the cerebral hemisphere of the brain will also “prefer” hierarchical ordering because this is where these functions are located within the brain. (Neither sequential/hierarchical preference or a linear/non-hierarchical ordering of information is right or wrong, it is just different and often a consequence of anatomy, not necessarily feminism.)

For those who do prefer hierarchy, they may also apply the same concept of Calvin's spheres of government to their conceptual understanding of how the individual should behave within the larger society. They will likely follow a similar hierarchical pattern for conduct just as the Reformed concept of evangelism maintains because this is what comes easily and naturally for the Left-Brained individual. Those who do not possess headship (women and children) cannot transcend these spheres of dominion under this interpretation because of hierarchy. A woman cannot approach one sphere without her inclusion within the immediately lesser sphere (one of which is mediated by her federal head). This is the foundational argument for prohibiting voting for women as it would be interpreted as functioning within the civil sphere, out from under the authority of her family and presumably the church as well.

For this reason, Reformed beliefs do tend toward theocracy [late note/addendum 01Sep08: particularly when interpreted in this way], because under a theocracy, there is very little to no ambiguity between spheres of government. It's just easier. The government is all well ordered under the same law in a theocracy -- God's Law, presumably reducing miscarriage of justice and providing benefit for all people. On a functional level, when all spheres follow a uniform code, there is theoretically less logistical "mess." The spheres nest quite well within one another, and the power structure (per this paternal interpretation of the spheres) limits dissent. One can attempt to work one's way up the chain of command to address injustice, but at the lowest level, women and children are called to the virtue of submission to unjust authorities for the purpose of developing patience, character and perseverance. This strongly discourages women and children from voicing complaints and limits their opportunity to do so.

The next post will investigate the spheres and their implications for women, with the third post summarizing how family integrated worship can be seen as somewhat of a necessity when one strongly adheres to and espouses these ideals and interpretations.

06Mar09 Addendum:

Vision Forum -- a group that teaches that women should not/cannot vote according to the Word of God -- boasts on its website that the President and Founder's wife, Beall Phillips, voted on election day, 2008.

The Vision Forum Ministries article that taught that women should not vote, “Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation” by Brian Abshire, has miraculously disappeared from
In case you don't recall all the hubub about this article, link HERE.

Vision Forum also altered the "Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy" sometime after December 2007 and prior to December 2008, changing the concept of the church as "a family of families" into a statement that now reflects that the church is "a family of families and singles."

The original "Tenets" that reflects "a family of families" appears HERE on the Internet Archive.

. .